Gerald Ford as a University of Michigan football player in 1934. Ford graduated UM in 1935.
Ford and Gunnery Officer William “Bill” Hacker celebrate shore leave from their duties aboard the USS MONTEREY. 1944.
The Omicron DKE House from
1928 – 1968, at 1912 Geddes.
Brother Gerald R. Ford, Jr., Omicron '35
His teammates later voted Ford their most valuable player, with one assistant coach noting, “They felt Jerry was one guy who would stay and fight in a losing cause.” As part of the 1935 Collegiate All-Star football team, Ford played against the Chicago Bears in an exhibition game. And his number 48 jersey has since been retired by the University of Michigan.
Following his graduation in 1935, with a degree in political science and economics, Ford turned down contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to take a coaching position at Yale and apply to its law school. Each team was offering him a contract of $200 a game, but he wanted a legal education.
Townsend followed Ford as Omicron chapter president, and the two leaders kept in touch throughout their professional lives and into retirement. Townsend visited Ford three times in the White House. He and his daughter also visited the Fords in California, and Jerry visited Townsend’s home in Indianapolis.
A photo on Townsend’s wall commemorates the visit as much as it highlights DKE’s ongoing involvement in American politics. It was 1976 and Ford was President. And while the lunch at Townsend’s home was private, the visitors beforehand included Matt Welch, Delta Kappa ’34, Indiana Governor from 1961 – 65, Bob Orr, Phi ’40, who would serve Indiana as a two-term Governor from 1981 – 89, and Dan Quayle, Psi Phi ’69, Indiana’s junior Senator from 1980 - 89, then Vice President under George H.W. Bush, Phi ’48.
More than 30 years earlier, Ford received a commission as ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. On April 20, 1942 he reported for active duty at Annapolis, Maryland. After a month of training, he went to Navy Preflight School, where he was one of 83 instructors and taught elementary seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid, and military drill. In addition, he coached in all nine sports that were offered, but mostly in swimming, boxing and football. During the one year he was at the Preflight School, he was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and then to Lieutenant in March, 1943.
Applying for sea duty, Ford was sent in May, 1943 to the pre-commissioning detachment for the new aircraft carrier USS Monterey. From the ship’s commissioning until the end of December, 1944, he served as the assistant navigator, Athletic Officer, and antiaircraft battery officer. While he was on board, the carrier participated in many actions in the Pacific Theater with the Third and Fifth Fleets during the fall of 1943 and in 1944.
Bill Hurley ’42 joined Deke’s Omicron chapter two years after Ford graduated. He lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, now and says he “graduated in uniform. I was in ROTC and went right into active duty in the Army after college,” he said. He was wounded, sent home, and began a career in investments. For 33 years he worked in Detroit’s office of Watling, Lerchen. A good, active Deke, after retirement he worked for 10 years as director of development for a Detroit hospital, helping with fund raising and community relations.
“Jerry had been gone for two years by the time I got to the Deke House,” Hurley said, “but he would come back for football games and chaperone parties occasionally when he was back in Grand Rapids. The house was ideal for a fraternity. It sat up on a big hill on the edge of town, overlooking the Arboretum. It had been a private home, one for a man we called a ‘lumber baron,’ and it had a homey feel to it.”
The DKE House at 1912 Geddes was purchased by Omicron in 1928 and was the chapter’s home for 40 years, until in burned in 1968. “The kitchen was in the back, just off the dining room,” Hurley said, “and of course the stories of Jerry washing dishes there are legendary now.”
“I remember one story, about how Jerry first became acquainted with the Dekes,” Hurley said. “He was trying out for the football team as a freshman. He met Herman Everhardus, and he made a comment about needing a job to help with schooling. Herman got him a job waiting tables at the Deke House, and the fellas liked him so much, they invited him to join DKE.”
Hurley knew Ford’s half-brother, Tom Ford, Omicron ’41, much better as Tom was just a year older in school. “Tom was a nice fella,” Hurley said. “Both Fords were nice fellas.”
Phil Buchen, Omicron ’39, “was a good, dear friend of Jerry’s,” Hurley said. “He was a senior when I was a freshman, and after the war he and Jerry became law partners in Grand Rapids.” Ford served in the Navy after graduating from Michigan and from Yale Law. While Ford was at Yale, Buchen studied law at Michigan. “Phil was a Big Man on Campus, too, just like Ford had been. And when Jerry went to Washington, he asked Phil to be his legal counsel. He was with Jerry in the White House all the time.”
Jim Grace, Omicron ’40, also knew Buchen. “There’s an interesting figure connected with Jerry,” Grace said. “Phil Buchen was Phi Beta Kappa and a Deke. As you might imagine, there weren’t a lot of those,” he chuckled. “And he made Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, which was very rare. When Jerry was in the White House, Phil was his counsel. They had been partners in Grand Rapids, and as Jerry climbed the ladder he stayed with Phil.”
That shouldn’t surprise Dekes. After all, Dekes are brothers. Dekes are friends from the heart forever.